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Doha Confirmed as Venue for Second Round of Afghan Peace Talks

FILE - A general view shows talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents underway in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 12, 2020.

Afghan officials say the government has decided to hold the second round of peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, the same place where the first round was held.

Faridoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation, the body responsible for overseeing the negotiations, said the decision was taken due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

Several countries had been in the running to host the peace negotiations, including Norway and Germany.

Doha was also the venue for negotiations between the United States and the Taliban that led to the signing of a deal between the two countries in February 2020. The Taliban have maintained an unofficial political office in Doha for years.

Khawzoon said the leadership committee of the AHCNR has authorized the Afghan government’s team to negotiate the agenda of the talks with the Taliban.

In the first round, the two sides agreed on the code of conduct to guide the negotiations. Before taking a three-week break, the two sides shared agenda items. Talks are expected to resume on January 5, 2021.

The office of President Ashraf Ghani also confirmed Doha as the venue for the second round to allow the negotiations to restart on time. Ghani had suggested that the second round and subsequent negotiations be held in Afghanistan.

The Taliban do not recognize Ghani’s government as legitimate and rejected that suggestion.

Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Peace Affairs, said the Afghan team was continuing its consultations with different segments of the Afghan society, including politicians and civil society activists.

The second round of talks will start at a time when calls for a cease-fire or a significant reduction in violence have gained momentum.

Taliban-driven violence against Afghan security forces has increased to a 10-year high after the militant group signed its deal with the United States.

The increase in violence has been an obstacle in negotiations with the Afghan government. The international community and regional countries alike have been calling for a reduction in violence.

Michael Kugelman, Asia program deputy director at the Wilson Center, said the Taliban want to use violence as a negotiation tactic.

"In this sense, the Taliban want to hold out and get more concessions from the other side before it agrees to focus on the violence issue," he told VOA.

Some analysts believe the Taliban would be reluctant to give up violence, which is the most potent negotiation tool they command.

"The only leverage they have is the use of violence," Rick Olson, former U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told VOA. “They are dreadfully unpopular politically."

The Taliban’s reluctance to give up violence is also linked to their organizational structure, said Andrew Watkins, senior analyst for Afghanistan, at the International Crisis Group.

"The Taliban are an insurgency, a machine that runs on fighting. Once fighting stops, it might be hard to start up the machine again," he said to VOA.